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moonchild, don't cry
"It's been some time."

At my words, she tilts her head towards me, purple smoke issuing from her parted lips and an eyebrow arched imperiously. She flicks ash in my direction and returns the lipstick-stained end of her cigarette to her mouth. I wipe my palms on the thighs of my jeans and plop down next to her on the sand. She doesn't reply; turning back to face the ocean and continuing to release purple rings of mist with each puff and drag of her cig.

I watch as the smoke rings float further, bobbing lazily in the air before dissipating into thin air, against a backdrop of the setting sun at the beach. The ocean stretches as far as the eye can see, with trees and cliffs framing the scenery. I tug off my Converse high-tops and ball my socks up, stuffing them into my shoes. I pull my legs up and hug my knees to my chest, digging my toes into the white, fine sand and savouring the warmth on my skin.

We stay like that for a while, a companionable and familiar silence broken only by the rhythmic hum of the waves, and her soft sigh with every other pull on her cig. The waters are surprisingly calm today; I would've expected it to be the opposite to match the turmoil and uneasiness that has been roiling within me for the past few weeks.

It must be her doing — she's always balanced me out.

Her hair is short now, but dyed a dark silver, like how Jin from BTS used to wear it. She's wearing a light and breezy chiffon dress with floral motifs on it, and her slippers are tossed to the side. Unlike me, her body language is more relaxed — slightly hunched and legs splayed out, with wet sand caked on her soles. Another stark difference between us is our weight, she looks skinnier.

A few moments pass before she releases a loud sigh, so full and deep with emotion. "Here," she mutters, shoving her cig towards me. I mumble my thanks and accept it, pausing for a second before taking a long drag on it, my chest expanding and shoulders rising with my inhale. I let the drug fill my mouth, before it slithers down to my lungs like a fine mist. At once, I feel lighter.

God, I needed this.

A giddy snort of laughter pushes past my lips as I exhale, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly, her mask of indifference finally cracking with a glimmer of an amused smile. "You've gained weight," she says in a mocking tone, looking me up and down.

I stare at her for a moment, before the hot ash from the cig falls onto the back of my hand, jerking me back to my senses. "Fuck off," I say, shaking my head in part-amusement and irritation. "Yeah, I know. Don't need you to tell me that."

"Just saying," she trills, and now it's my turn to roll my eyes.

"So," she starts in a conversational tone, "I like how your optimism, productivity and motivation crashed and burned in such a spectacular manner."

"Yeah, me too," I reply without missing a beat. I shrug my shoulders and pass the cig back to her, gazing at my smoke rings fading into the air.

I went back to look at my previous post and flipped through the last few pages of my hard-copy journal and laughed — a mocking snicker slightly like her words — at how I used to be. Eh, I don't know, maybe it's just been a bad few days. Inertia is the absolute devil, and this shrill witch's cackle of a voice keeps ringing in my head, pulling me down and exacerbating my doubts and fears of inadequacies — haha, twenty-nine with no full-time job, no boyfriend, still living with parents, haha fucking loser what the fuck are you doing with your life other people have already done so much what are you doingggggg

"Dunno. I had such high hopes about everything," I say, cracking my knuckles just for something for my hands to do. "I was supposed to have accomplished so many things by now."

She scoffs. "Your kind are all hypocrites anyway. Saying that you'd do all of that, and not delivering in the end. You wasted so much time." She takes a last drag of the dwindling cig and tosses it into the waters. We watch in silence as the waves engulf it, dragging it away from us. She links her fingers together, peering at me. "Getting married and settling down. Societal pressure finally getting to you, huh?"

I shrug again, sinking my feet further into the warm, comforting sand. "Everyone else is moving on. Friends getting married, getting attached, getting qualifications, getting houses and climbing higher, progressing with life." I turn my hands over, palms facing up to the heavens, and gesture helplessly. "Just feeling left behind, I guess. It's graduation season now, which doesn't help." I try for a smile, but it doesn't surface this time. The corner of my lips tug up just a bit, before I pull them back down to a straight line.

I never could pretend much with her.

On a whim, I went to check his profile on Facebook even though I unfriended him years ago when we dated. I've never thought about him for so long, but he popped into my mind when I was scrolling all the NUS graduation photos from my newly-minted Masters/PhD friends. Turns out that he just graduated from medical school too, and a part of me is glad, even proud, of him, because he finally achieved something that he was so passionate about when we went out. And it feels bittersweet too, I guess, because I thought about what we could have been, which sent me on this rabbit hole of storming down memory lane of not just my time with him, but basically my entire love life which ceased in 2014.

My first two exes are married now with stable jobs (I assume), making good money and probably having plans to settle down with a house, kids and a white picket fence with their rosy, dreamy, fairy-tale happily ever afters firmly grasped in their fists. 

Which makes me feel even more left behind and more of a loser, if I am allowed to put my pride aside and admit it with utmost and full honesty.

"Fucking hell, the things you wrote—" she says, and I squeak in horrified embarrassment, covering my ears in mortification and shaking my head.

I wrote thousands and thousands of words about each of them, and I went back to my archives and tried reading the most recent post, but I COULDN'T DO IT BECAUSE EVERYTHING WAS SO CRINGY DID I REALLY FEEL LIKE THAT FIVE YEARS AGO AND BEYOND AH FUCK I CAN'T I CAN'T I CAN'TTTTT

She throws her head back and cackles with laughter at my aghast reaction, and after a while, I drop my hands and dissolve into a fit of giggles.

"That was a wild ride from start to finish," she remarks, and I nod, wiping my tears of mirth from the corners of my eyes. After a while, after the short-lived amusement is wringed out from me, I tumble back to reality. I sigh, stretching my legs out on the sand and wriggling my toes. I wrap my arms around my stomach and hug myself.

A sudden sea breeze rustles her attire, the pleats of her dress tickling my left calf. "Dating apps?" she offers, saying something that has been repeated ad nauseum to me. 

"Nothing wrong with that, but I can't do it now," I say. At her blink of confusion, I continue. "No job. No one's gonna go for someone without a job. They'd swipe left even before I can say my name, yeah?" I smile self-deprecatingly, ducking my head and rubbing the back of my neck.

My mum's currently sick with a high fever, cough and sore throat, and it got really bad a few days ago; she wasn't sure of her surroundings and my dad brought her to the doctor's, and that got me thinking — if I don't get married, and if I'm sick, then what's gonna happen? Sure, I can take care of myself in general, but what if it's really bad? My aunt, who was single, passed away in hospital, but at least she had her brothers and their families to sort things out.

I'm an only child. 

I did get my first non-NUS paycheck last month, so it felt that I was trying something different, for once, and I'm clocking in regular hours at my part-time job, but nothing feels right.

"Do you regret leaving the museum?" she asks, and my answer is instant.

"No. Not at all," I say with certainty. "I couldn't have stayed. It was a good time to leave. I didn't want to stagnate there, with musty cobwebs all over me, and I guess I needed those pushes to yank me out of my comfort zone and go out into the real world and do something different."

She nods and leans back, as if satisfied with my answer.

I've been thinking a bit much for the past few weeks, which comes as no surprise because apparently when one isn't busy with work, one tends to over-think shit and end up getting all miserable and useless. It's a good time to reassess my life at this point in time and think about my meaning in life. I've turned it over and over in my head, like a complex and annoying Rubik's Cube that is almost perfect, except for one or two corners here and there that no matter how much I spin or flip, won't fit.

I keep thinking about nature.

When I read the news everyday, there's always an item or even multiple items about the state of our earth — heatwaves and wildfires in Europe, droughts in Australia, monsoon floods in Asia, everything melting and going to hell, the risks Singapore face in the horrors of climate change and the measures that the government are implementing to mitigate them, and this voice inside me just pipes up use me, use me, use me!

I have the qualifications, expertise, the skills and the passion to help in this fight, and sadly, none of it is being mobilised. I miss being involved — be it in outreach, writing, presenting, a bit of research here and there, learning about the environmental sciences. I want to help, I want to be involved in the environmental sciences, so use my training, use my experience, just use me!

Even though I'm aware of the fact that I spent all of my adult years mired in environmental education, it still surprises me how much I miss it.

I keep going back to nature.

I just sent in two applications to National Parks Board, and from what I understand, there should be another one opening up soon. Recently, I've been inclined to the Public Service because of the stability, benefits, bonuses and higher salary compared to my previous job. I really don't know how anything is gonna turn out, honestly, and that puts me on edge.

Writing still makes my soul sing, and it's still really the number one thing that grants meaning to my life and makes me glad that I'm alive. Without my flair for writing, I would've lost a big chunk of my will to live ages ago. I think as long as I keep writing, keeping my mind turning with new pieces, it'd chase away this heavy, dark cloud of helplessness and depression dogging my footsteps.

So yeah, nature and writing. Work in nature by day, and be a writer by night. That still makes the most sense to my mind, my heart and my soul.

"What are you grateful for?" she asks, and this question is like a bolt out of the blue. It takes me back to the time when my mother used to ask me this when I was growing up, to count my blessings.

I blink rapidly. "I..." I start haltingly, casting my mind back to the previous weeks. I dip my head, drawing swirly patterns in the sand as I stitch my words together. "At least I have this part-time job. I have a... a comfortable lifestyle and parents who care about me, even though their jibes at my joblessness make me feel like absolute shit sometimes. I met up with Ziyun last week, she volunteered to meet me for a last-minute lunch when I asked her for tips for my job applications, and... Bernice, 'cos when I met her for dinner on the same day when my rabbit died, she gave me a long hug and we had good food and conversation. And BTS' music and videos. They make me so happy," I say, and this time I smile, something genuine and gentle. At the thought of those seven men, my heart warms. I love their music, it suits every emotion — I'm currently listening to RM's forever rain and seoul while writing this, and it's just so damn fucking perfect for the mood.

I stop drawing and look up at her, my grin fading. "Yeah." I look away, training my gaze out to the ocean. "That's what I've been grateful for."

There's a sudden scampering of paws, and I turn my head towards the sound. "Oh!" I yelp, my lips parting in surprise and mounting happiness. My heart leaps as a white Holland Lop rabbit — with dark brown patterns on her fur coat — dashes towards us, flicking sand behind her with every bound of her back legs. She hops across my stretched-out legs and lands neatly in between us.

"Oh, you're here, you're actually here," I say, tears prickling the back of my eyes. I stretch a hand out and run my fingers through her fine, soft fur. I touch her floppy ears, the tufts of fur on her head before sliding my palm down to her underside, swallowing the lump in my throat when I feel her strong heartbeat beneath my fingers.

"Of course. She keeps me company when you don't visit," Chloe says. I try to detect a note of disdain from her words, but come up short. She pets the rabbit too, her lips hiking up into a grin when the animal sits on her haunches and lifts her paws to her face, grooming herself. When she's finished, she peers up at me with her precocious brown eyes and nudges my hand with her twitching nose, as if calling my attention to something, and this reminds me so much of her last few days with us before she died in the middle of the night and we woke up to her stiff, cold body, her eyes wide open, exactly seven days ago—

I bite my lower lip hard and look away briefly, unable to reconcile that memory of her with the rabbit in front of me right now—

Nothing here is real. You knew that the moment you crafted this world, you know that!

"Yes?" I whisper, following her gaze towards the distance.

Yes. But I've always loved playing pretend.

A glittering rainbow bridge, reaching up to the heavens, is in the horizon to my right, the direction where she came bounding from. The spectrum of colours of the bridge — the newest addition to this world — are faint, yet it is the brightest, most hopeful thing in this earth. Another impatient nudge to my wrist, and a faint huffing sound from the rabbit draws my attention back to her.

"It's not my time yet," I murmur, stroking her back once more. "But you can go if you want to."

She stares up at me with her warm brown eyes, before letting out a sound suspiciously like a sigh and flopping down on the sand, her long ears resting on the ground. A gust of wind rustles her fur, and she closes her eyes, as if content to stay here with me until I'm ready.

"We'll wait for you, then we'll go together," Chloe says, catching my eye and holding my gaze for a long, loaded moment, before turning away.

A heartbeat of a pause.

"Yeah," I say, my voice breaking on the word. "Yeah, we will," I repeat, softer this time.

I haven't written in months.

The last time I wrote something was in December, even though I spent the next two months proofreading the piece. When I started this piece, it was full of starts and stops, before I got into the proper flow of things, and it made me feel like myself again.

"What's the new story you're working on right now?" she asks, sweeping sand away from her dress.

Excitement swells within me at her question, and I sit up straight, my lips automatically curving into a grin, my eyes shining and my hands rising to gesture. "It's a really emotional piece about moving on from grief and losing people or things that are important, or used to be important in your life."

I saw the prompt for the story while Spring Day by BTS was playing, and everything just clicked in my head. My next piece is about enduring the piercing pain and overwhelming sorrow of reminiscing about people that we've lost, comparing it to the biting cold of winter, because we have to hurt, we have to grieve before we put ourselves back together, learn enough to move on to a new chapter of our lives — a spring of healed-over wounds, of hope and promise, of rebirth and renewal.

Just thinking about the serendipity of this piece, of putting my thoughts and emotions on paper and how much the fic means to me, at this point in my life, is enough to make me tear up.

"So what now?" she asks, her words tugging me away from the potential of my new story.

"I-" I start, before realising that I don't know how to answer her.

I feel the occasional scorpion sting of loneliness and sadness, and when you couple that with the perpetual dark storm cloud of inadequacy plaguing me, it leeches my old positivity away from me.

The sun dips lower and lower in the pink- and yellow-streaked sky.

I sigh.

"I'll do my best, like what I've always done."

We sit there in silence, both human and rabbit, as we watch the sunset in all of her glory, accompanied by the soft hush and hum of the waves. Life goes on, as certain and sure as the tides of the ocean.

My spring has to come, sooner or later.



good day
The last two months have been contradictory bouts of absolute laziness and mental and physical exhaustion; a rollercoaster of emotions and self-reflection. Even starting this piece is equally comforting and odd - I haven't written in months, but the familiar process of putting thoughts into prose is gradually returning to me.

My last day of service at the museum was 19 April, and I vaguely remember the early half of April being a flurry of late nights, tying up last-minute threads, handing-over my roles and responsibilities, preparing gifts (while also receiving gifts and cards) and hand-written notes to a handful of colleagues, and of course, the memorable farewell dinner that my previous workplace (FIB lab) held for me. It was so damn expensive - like 60 bucks per person; we went to Ah Yat Abalone at Turf Club, a place that I was not expecting at all (usually when someone leaves, we just go to somewhere casual at Holland Village). After dinner that night, we went to Udders for ice-cream and Rayson paid for my cab fare and everyone was just so generous that night I have no idea why but I'm so grateful, so fucking grateful for this lovely bunch of people. I'm an ex-staff - I left the museum, not the lab, so I was so speechless and touched-

I went home and cried.

I flew off to Lisbon on 22 April, feeling so damn relieved and so free that I've left all of that stuff in the museum. I spent three glorious weeks in Lisbon, Sintra, Madrid, Seville and Barcelona - my first time to these places, and I had fun, of course, going to new places, trying new food, snagging great bargains and enjoying new experiences, doing everything that I wanted to do, but I knew that I had to deal with my job prospects and real life when I eventually returned home.

I'm grateful to my family - my dad for taking care of transport to and fro the airport, and yes, even though having my mum around 24/7 for three weeks was rather prickly at times, I'm glad for this rare time to hang out with her and create new memories and experiences.

Reality felt a bit disconcerted when I reached home. After fighting off jet lag (I resorted to counting potatoes rolling under the fence, yes, I know people count sheep jumping over the fence, but I love potatoes), life before and after my vacation felt vastly different. Even when I returned to NUS to have lunch with my old colleagues, it's like hey, you used to work here, and you left the museum barely a month ago, but it feels so long ago. As if my life before Spain and Portugal belonged as far as another lifetime, as if everything was a fresh start, a rebirth of sorts (if I may allow myself to be so dramatic).

I was lost in Life After Spain and Portugal. I'm officially jobless, yet I don't feel the urgency of job-hunting, because a) I know that my savings are enough to tide me over for a bit; and b) I have a job waiting for me already if I choose to confirm and accept it. Jinjin offered me a job at her tuition centre with minimal questions asked (sometimes I can't believe my luck), and that's the work that I've been doing in May - observing her classes and picking up her tips and tricks on how to teach students of all ages effectively (it's honestly harder than it looks, trust me).

That's why I have a thick stack of textbooks - Upper Primary to Lower Secondary science, primary and secondary English texts and files of exam papers on my table - waiting to be read and studied. It's a strange sensation, as if I've been tossed back through the time machine, studying these concepts and ideas that I've gone through years and years ago, writing notes in colour pens and cramming.

Except that I'm now studying to be a teacher, not to be a student.

My mum still wants me to work for a big company - MNCs or government jobs - so I'm still Googling for jobs every week or so. We'll see what comes up, but honestly, what Jinjin is offering me (both salary, proximity to my house, meaning in the job, and opportunities for growth and self-development) is pretty decent.

Yet, May is also a month of pure sloth. The times that I'm not at her centre learning, I'm basically wrapped up in bed, glued to my phone watching BTS (yes, I'm a BTS fan because of their charisma, sense of humour, dancing, songs, and just, just EVERYTHING, my friends are so surprised to hear that, and MY BIAS IS THE HYUNG LINE, ESPECIALLY RM. RM's swag is unbeatable, J-Hope's sunshine reminds me of how I used to be, and seeing his aegyo is enough to brighten up my day, Suga is relatable, and Jin is of course WORLDWIDE HANDSOME, and he's so adorkable), reading manga or just doing shit that involves zero effort and progression in life whatsoever.

I didn't even know I could get this lazy.

Inertia is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

Well, it's 1 June today, no use crying over spilled milk and time that's already wasted, so it's time to pick myself up, pull myself together and get myself sorted out. I'll treat May as a month for well-deserved resting/recuperating/recreation, and continue on from here. I refuse to allow myself to slip back into the vortex of self-pity, indolence, emptiness and disorientation that I felt in 2014.

June is shaping up to be pretty interesting - I'll be busy with observing classes, mugging and teaching for the first two weeks, as Jinjin is teaching insane hours, and my only time to earn money in June is during these two weeks. The last two weeks would be relatively relaxed as there'll be no classes at all (she's overseas), so I can take my time to continue studying and work on my personal projects, which include a) packing my room, b) writing and editing my novel, c) updating CV and investments; d) reading, lots and lots of reading

HD Fanfair (a Harry-Draco fest) is happening in June, so I'm looking forward to that too.

Oh yeah, I finally updated World of Warcraft too. CLASSIC IS COMING IN LATE AUGUST I CAN'T WAIT HONESTLY

Yeah, June will be the month of self-motivation and self-reflection, achieving goals at my own speed and freedom to think, to breathe, to write and to work on my own thing.

I think it'd be interesting.

What a fucking week.

What an absolute fucking disaster of a working week.

After all the frustration, anger, helplessness, worry and disappointment (fucking hell, so much disappointment) after the past five days, I’m just so very, very tired.

So tired, so numb, so drained and so wrung-out.

How can everything collapse like this in such a short time?

When I run into hard times, I like to think of it as character-building. The last time I had to endure character-building was in 2014, five years ago. Part of me wonders why I’m staying. Why can’t I just say “Oh, everything’s gone to shit, so I should just cut my losses and leave. It’s going to be a lot more work and problems for a pay like this and so little benefits.”

I have a friend who runs a tuition centre, and she’s always been open about giving me a chance. If I allow myself to take this chance, I’d get a much higher pay, and I get to run away from all of these things, and focus on what I really want to do – to teach. I know my competence, my abilities and the skills that I bring to the table, and I’m confident that I would be an asset to any organization. I know I can leave, and get more money for less work and bullshit.

But I plan to stay.

In life, there’s always this dilemma – doing what is right, and what is easy.

I’m choosing to do what is right.

Because of passion, commitment and my innate strong sense of responsibility. Yes, these things are in short supply in the modern working environment, because it feels like what everyone cares about is money, climbing up the ladder and how to do the least work and get the most returns.

When I read the papers and read all the bad news about the dying earth, I say to myself, Hey, I’m doing what I can in my job to help and alleviate this problem. Every time when I lead the students into the gallery, there’s always this gasp of surprise and wonder from them, and I feel so damn proud of the museum. Every time when a teacher tells me I did a good job, that the preschoolers spent the bus ride home talking about my tour and about what they can do to save the environment. Every time when the same schoolteachers email me every year to make bookings for the same programmes because they have overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students about our classes. Every time a student’s face falls whenever I show her the plastic trash in the whale’s stomach. Every time when a student shyly pulls me aside after a tour and tells me something new that she learnt today, such as:

“I didn’t know that we shouldn’t take empty shells from the beach because they’re possible homes for other animals like hermit crabs. I used to do that when I went on holiday, but I’m gonna stop doing that.”

Ever since September 2016, for every tour, this is what I’ve said: The museum has three main aims – research, taking care of our collections, and education, which is so very important as it increases awareness of environmental and conservational issues.”

And I am very unwilling and reluctant to let the last aim crumble to dust under my watch.

Because I know, in my own small way, that I am making a difference about what really matters to me, and this fulfillment is the reward that I get from my job – not money, not titles, nothing like that. It’s really my intrinsic values that are spurring me on, encouraging me, knowing that my skills, passion, expertise and knowledge are a wonderful fit for what I was hired to do – to teach.

I just want to teach.

And also because of Darren. I have known him and worked for him for six years, ever since I was a lowly FYP student in his research lab. He has supported me in everything that I’ve done (even writing a lovely and touching reference letter for me to get this museum job, which has let me fully develop my passion for teaching). I respect and admire him greatly, and he is one of the very few people that has earned my loyalty and gratitude, and I cannot, in good faith and honour, abandon him and the tatters of my team when I am most needed.

This is why I’m unwilling to flee this sinking ship, because I know that if I walked away from this mess, I cannot look at myself in the mirror. Staying at the museum is now very much a labour of love, along with acting on values of responsibility, commitment and loyalty, values that I hold very, very dear.

These qualities are priceless.

Well, I guess if I want to look on the bright side of things, when someone asks me in my next job interview what was a difficult period in my previous job, I’ve got an answer ready.

Fucking hell.

I’ve got the next four days off because of the CNY break, which is such a godsend. I’m going to take a good, long and well-deserved break (I had a five-hour long nap this afternoon because I've been losing sleep for this week about my decision to take over). I’m gonna go into work next week with a clear conscience, renewed focus and an unencumbered mind, and try my best to maintain that state of being even when the next curveball crashes into my life.

Wish me luck.

hello 2019
One of the questions included in my Passion Planner's end-of-year reflection is: From 1-10 how do you feel overall about the past year?

I'd give it an 8, no problem.

2018 has been relatively good for me because of many reasons, with one major reason being that last year was a game-changer for me as a writer. I spent the first half of 2018 planning and plotting, pre-writing and researching my three-act novel; writing (and editing, based on my editor's feedback) the first act and started the first half of the second act. This comes up to 123,504 words. For the later half of 2018, I stopped work on the novel to focus on writing for two Harry/Draco fests, contributing two stories with a combined word count of 76,264. I ended off the year with another story of 30,043 words, due to be published online by January 2019.

This means that my total output for 2018 was a whopping 229,811 words.

I'm so damn proud of myself, especially of my concrete progress for my novel. This achievement means so much to me, as this is a story eight years into the making: bits and pieces of the plot came to me in late 2011, and throughout the years, I've been building scenes and snippets of plot here and there. Ever since 2016, the single major wish I've put as my overall goal for each year is to work on/finish the story, but I haven't made much headway previously.

Until 2018.

The entire process of creating those 230K+ words wasn't smooth-sailing and easy, of course, there were bumps and glitches along the way, where I was mired in the quicksand of procrastination, real life and plain old-fashioned laziness, but I bounced back from months when I didn't write a single word and quickly re-ignited my love for the Harry Potter fandom. Ultimately, my passion and love for writing never faded, and I kept at it consistently through most of the year, which was unprecedented.

So yeah, this is the most singular achievement of the year.

Having a laser-light focus on writing is good, sure, but I needed to constantly remind myself that I shouldn't be so inflexible and single-minded to ignore important things too, like family, friends and keeping fit. Family and friends weren't an issue, but just like so many people, it's a challenge to inculcate the habit of visiting the gym consistently. I started my gym membership on October 2017, so 2018 was the first year that I had a membership for the whole year. Sometimes I'd say that "hey, maybe I'd skip the gym tonight after work so that I can go home and write," and guess what, I'd spend the night on YouTube or online doing nothing whatsoever.

I had to keep reminding myself that writing and fitness aren't mutually exclusive — in fact, I've noticed exercising helps my focus, which does help me in my writing (plus Tuesdays are kickboxing days!! <3). At my most ambitious, I told myself I'd visit the gym three times a week (unless I'm on my period or I'm proofreading my work), which boiled down to me going for a total of 46 times in 2018, which is roughly once a week.

Hmm, that doesn't particularly live up to expectations, does it? Although I am kinda proud of myself — from being a total couch potato to getting a lot more active.

It's something that I still have to work on. I realised that my unwillingness to visit the gym arises 'cos I tell myself that I have to run 5km every time I go, and just that thought is enough for me to burrow further into my bedsheets and open up YouTube. I need to start telling myself that hey, it's alright if you don't do 5km, just 4km would be alright, that it's essential to just turn up.

Getting fit is a lifelong process after all, isn't it, and I'm determined to do better in 2019, to cut the excuses, stop over-thinking things and just go to the gym. D'you ever notice that everything all goes to shit when you start over-thinking things; like you know it's gym time now, but then you end up looking at your bed, or that book, or your writing notes nestled under your laptop, and you end up skipping the gym instead? I've learnt that it's easier to just set things into motion — grab your bag, wear shoes and simply leave the house.

I do have a few other achievements under my belt, and although they're not as major as the two that I've outlined above, they are no more lesser in importance.

1) I've drastically improved in my usage of my Passion Planner — planning and tracking my time, narrowing down my focus for the week and the month, reflections and words of encouragement when motivation is at an all-time low, sticking my ticket (movie, concert, etc) stubs for remembering fun times with friends, and just having a blast decorating it with my colourful washi tape and markers.

I run my life with it, and it's gone a long way in helping me to achieve what I have in 2018.

/hugs Passion Planner 2019 happily

2) I have finally, finally cemented my habit of reading the hard-copy newspapers every day. For years, I've always had that thought flitting in and out of my mind, that hey, I should start reading the papers, learn more about what's happening outside of my little protective bubble of writing, work and the humdrum of everyday life. I've fixed this habit in 2018, and now it simply feels weird when I don't read the papers every day. I like knowing what's happening outside in the world, and when I stumble across environmental issues (which are appearing a LOT more frequently these days) and wildlife conservation, it's really useful for me to include in my classes at work too.

3) Oil painting classes with jingxiang! Off the top of my head, I can't remember how many classes our package included (ten?), but I got two paintings — both still-life of flowers — out of it! Although there were times when I got really annoyed and impatient (and it showed, 'cos jingxiang specially taught me how to paint and blend and shade those tricky colours and corners of the painting). It was something different that I explored last year.

4) Took a more pro-active stance in my investments — bought a handful of stocks and bonds last year.

So here they are; my main accomplishments of 2018, among other smaller ones that I didn't list here. Compared to 2017, I'm so much more prolific and passionate as a writer; more active thanks to gym; more organised with clearer, meaningful goals and more informed about world affairs.

Pretty alright for a year, yeah?

I learnt some things about myself along the way, too — things that I have to keep repeating to myself. The most important advice that I can give myself is to just start.

Really. It might seem deceptively simple at first, but it's not. Your laziness is always coming up with some shitty reason to keep you from reaching your goals, because it's always simpler to just go straight home after work and skip the gym, because it's less taxing to just laze in bed and play YouTube video after video, because it's easier to read fanfiction instead of writing it. Which links me back to my point about over-thinking things, because in reality, I just have to get up, open the Microsoft Word document/grab my gym bag and get moving.

Once you have that momentum and consistency locked in, you're exceeding your expectations and smashing those fucking goals out of the park. And after a hard day's work, when you're scrolling through a wonderfully-written chapter, hold on to that sense of accomplishment and fulfilment and remember how it feels, how much better it feels compared to the sense of failure and self-disgust engulfing you when you end up slacking the entire day.

Rewards are so much sweeter when you actually deserve it.

That being said, it's still an uphill battle to learn the skill of setting realistic expectations. D'you know in previous years, I thought I could finish my novel completely in one year? Bloody preposterous, when you come to think about it. At the end of the day, I'm only human with limited willpower and abilities, I need to factor in things like pure, simple exhaustion after a long day of teaching, of things taking longer than expected to finish, and that maybe some days, I really do deserve to have a proper rest and just spend it slacking.

The third biggest lesson of the year is that I have to be less paranoid when it comes to things like checking details and proof-reading. I can spend an abnormally long amount of time replying work emails and triple-checking that I didn't double-book a class. My colleagues say I'm being detail-oriented, but I say that's not using my time wisely. Worse still, I really spend an excessive amount of time editing my writing; going over every single word with a fine-toothed comb. In this case, it's really okay to make mistakes. It's also a constant struggle to remind myself to edit less and write more when I'm writing, although with every chapter, I think I'm improving.

On top of the three lessons mentioned above to improve on, 2019 comes with its new set of goals and challenges:

1) Writing — finish writing and editing Act 2, finish Act 3. This is the bare minimum I have to accomplish, with space for more, depending on how many fests I'm getting involved in.
2) Fitness — gym three times a week.
3) Read more — I still have the same eight books that I haven't touched since early 2018. If I use half the time I spend on YouTube reading, I'd finish those books, no problem. On top of these hard copy books, there's so, so many lovely fanfiction from previous fests that I haven't even made a dent in. T_T
4) Play the guitar more
5) Update investment portfolio

The details of how I'm gonna attain each goal are fleshed out in my planner to keep me on track throughout the year.

So yep, this is what I'll be busy with in 2019. I'm gonna make it even bigger and better than 2018.

Wish me luck!

embrace of the dead
I wince at the discordant notes sounding from the piano when she slams her hands against the keys.

"Stop, stop," I insist, sweeping her fingers off the keys. She ignores my protests and even has the absolute audacity to blow smoke rings in my face, all the while banging on the piano, like a child desperate for attention. I cough and wave away the glittering purple smoke and dust purple ash off my thighs.

I do the only thing possible in situations like these — I yank the cigarette from her lips.

"Hey!" she yelps and reaches for it, but as our arms are equally short, and I'm pushing her away with an elbow, her efforts are for naught. I take a long drag of the cigarette, blow the smoke in her direction and stub the cig out on the edge of the piano.

"That was my last one, you freak," she says, deflated.

"Oops," I say in the most insincere tone I can muster. With her meddling hands off the piano, I raise my hands to the keys gingerly, the shape of my hands curved to play the major notes within an octave.

I hesitate.

I haven't played in years.

She watches with half-lidded dark-brown eyes, head tipped to the side as my hands sag. My wrists thud on the edge of the keyboard, the pads of my fingertips slide down the keys, the rich mahogany sheen of the piano, down to my lap.
"I'm more partial to the guitar," I offer by way of an explanation, or excuse, depending on which way you look at it.

She arches an eyebrow, clearly not impressed.

"Practise makes perfect, you know."

She leans closer, her lips grazing against the shell of my ear. The ends of her long hair — an identical length to mine, for once — brush my arm. I smell the whiskey on her breath when she speaks, her voice light and mocking.

"Such a shame that perfection bores you."


I've just finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. The content is rather interesting, although the book can be condensed, I feel. There are a few topics which I find extremely fascinating, such as the art of deliberate practise. Deliberate practise is a term used in performance psychology, and is apparently the secret that sets the expert apart from the layman. Before I delve deeper into the link between deliberate practise and deep work, we have to examine the neurological foundation behind deliberate practise.

Myelin is a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurones. Myelin allows the cells to fire faster. As one focuses on a specific skill and hones the circuitry more and more, more myelin grows around the corresponding neurones, increasing the efficiency of the circuit and "effectively cementing the skill".

The key word here is focus, as intense and uninterrupted concentration is necessary in deliberate practise, in order to isolate the relevant neurones involved in the specific skill. This means that distraction, such as flitting between social media or texts from friends, has no place in efficient learning.

"To learn hard things quickly is an act of deep work."

What I find so remarkable about this is the capability of our abilities to grow with us, for us to improve.

You wanna get better at something, like maths?

Just practise.

It's as if your brain is telling you, hey I can see you trying really hard, here, let me wrap some sweet myelin around yo neurones as a reward.

It's so encouraging, as if one can learn anything, do anything, if one puts her heart into it.

One very popular phrase about cultivating regular habits is don't break the chain, coined by comic Jerry Seinfeld. An aspiring comedian asked him about the secret of his success, and he simply said to write one joke a day, mark it off your calendar and not to break the chain. The logic behind it is consistency — as the chain increases in length, you'll find it harder to give up.

"Do hard things consistently."

Armed with this knowledge, I started a weekly habit tracker in my passion planner in January. I started out with eight habits, but I've pared them down to one, because I've cemented the rest already. The habit that I'm the proudest to accomplish is to read the news every day. It's one of the first things I do in the morning at weekends and when I reach home after work on weekdays.

I like being updated on current affairs, I like to know what's going on around me, and I find that some parts of the business section help me in making sound judgements regarding my financial investments. I particularly like reading the opinion pieces of current affairs.

The last habit that I'm struggling with are my dailies — a suite of exercises (e.g., push-ups, squats, planks) that I've promised myself to carry out on non-gym days. It's still a bit rocky because of my lack of discipline on some days.

Something to work on for the coming weeks.

I've fallen in love with structure and schedule. 

People hate the word schedule, they think of it as something limiting, constricting, rigid.

It’s funny, because there are other worse constraints that people place themselves under.

The goal of having a schedule is knowing what you should complete for the day. It's not about controlling your actions, but it's about thoughtfulness and prioritisation. Having a schedule is useful, but flexibility is important since last-minute meetings and tasks can pop up during a busy day. That's fine, because then you can ask yourself this question: "what makes sense for me to do with the time that remains?

It's a lot harder to answer that question if you don't have a schedule.

Scheduling things helps me to wrestle back control of my time, which does tend to slip away in the blink of an eye.

That's why I really, really love scheduling things.

But it's gotten to a point that I have to schedule every single thing into my to-do list, if not I'll be at an absolute loss. Sunday nights are my schedule nights, where I look at what I would like to accomplish for the month, break it down into weekly tasks, break that even further to daily bites, and then slot the tasks into my daily plans, so that every morning when I enter the office, I know what I have to finish by 6pm.

I schedule my free time too, tell myself that hey, I need to finish writing so-and-so scenes, finish reading these chapters of my book, going to the gym, before I can feel that I've had a good, productive day. When a handful of my friends heard about this, they went huh? even free time you also schedule. Not tired meh?

On the contrary. Their points are valid — scheduling duties at work makes sense, because you have to justify your salary, but isn't free time different? Isn't it better to keep your free time completely unstructured and flexible, in order to relax and recharge fully?

Sure, I guess so, but the pattern that I find recurring is that when I don't plan my free time, I spend the entire day in bed surfing YouTube.

Oh, YouTube is such an excellent productivity killer for me.

Planning your free time and hobbies grants your commitment to them. Especially since one of my hobbies is writing, a task that requires deep work. I need that structure to tell myself to sit down and work on my novel in this time-frame. This act of making the meaningful choice of setting aside time to do something, proves that I am in control of my time, effort and energy, and this control helps to generate motivation.

It goes something along the lines of this: I could spend the next three hours on YouTube, or I could spend it to finish this scene that I've been struggling with. You know what, I'm gonna work on this scene. So what if this scene isn't working too well for me right now, I have to finish it, if not it's gonna be a major roadblock and I'll gradually stop working on my story. That can't happen, because I have to write, I have to finish this.

I want this.

Last time, it was this focus that made me so inflexible at times, but I've learnt to get around it. Some days, when I deserve it because of the consistently hard work I've put in for the past week, I just give myself a rest day, leaving the entire day open to do whatever I feel like doing, including not moving in my bed at all, because I could be on YouTube or immersed in a really good book.

Only if I deserve it, though, as a reward.

I've also taken to tracking my time, both at work and at home. I write down what I do over the course of the day, and then align my actions with my goals within the month, and subsequently the year. This helps me to bridge the gap between reality and my goals. People track their money and their budget and treat it with respect, so why don't people track their time, which I feel is more precious than money?

You can die anytime.

At the end of the month, I congratulate myself when I've accomplished all of my goals, and tell myself it's alright if I fucked up.

It's alright if I fucked up.

Do you know how long it took for me to make peace with that statement?

Because for the past few years, I've removed my expectations from people around me (because people disappoint you, anyway) and planted all of it on my shoulders. Whenever I fucked up, I'd sink deeper into my blazing hell of brimstone and misery, break out the champagne and cake for my pity party.

I'm so fucking tired of doing that, of punishing myself for being human.

I learnt how to pick myself up, forgive myself and move on, which is what I had to do after January and February, because I didn't do jack-fucking-shit those two months. I fucked up the first two months of the year, but that still leaves me ten months to do good work.

I hit all of my fucking goals in March and April.

This insight is probably my favourite, the most enlightening part of Deep Work.

It's about meaning in life.

Recently, a close colleague — known for her wit and candour — asked me: What do you have to live for in life? What do you look forward to? You don't go out much, you don't indulge in fancy meals or things, you don’t have to travel. It's like your life is just work, gym, writing and things like that. You know, that's it.

That got my hackles up, her using those words, in that brash manner and sharp tone. I was tempted to bite out that's 'cause if I kill myself then who's gonna do museum programmes?

Everyone has a different trajectory in their path in life; different people envision their ideal life in different ways. Who are you to judge how I should live my life? The mainstream ideal life would be to get a good education (check), not get involved in some sort of seedy scandal (check), get a steady, well-paying job (half-check, my job is relatively steady), find someone decent to settle down with (haha, not too bloody likely) and push out a few babies to fulfil the national requirement of a birth replacement rate, work until you retire, live a happy life with your spouse when your young have flown the nest, and then it's time to die.

Any deviation from this would be a disappointment to the societal standards of an ideal life.

At this point in my life, I think my meaning in life is to create things that matter.

Sure, that sounds pretty damn impressive and everything, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not working on a bestseller novel; I'm not even getting any money or widespread recognition for the hours and effort poured into my work. I write fanfiction, and half of the time when you mention fanfiction to other people, that immediately discounts you as a writer in their eyes.

I bristle at that, because I've read fanfiction that can rival original, published fiction.

My apologies. Maybe I should have been clearer.

My meaning in life, right now, is to create things that matter to me.

It's the process of writing that brings meaning to me.

Yes, the end-product — 15-20 chapters, probably going up to 250K words in total — is the end-game that I strive to achieve, the finish line that I envision to motivate me. 

But it's the process of employing deep work to transmit the scenes — so vivid and real that each action drips from my fingertips like tears and blood — playing out in my head into paper; spending days losing myself in a different world; that sense of achievement whirling around my heart as I sit back after a productive writing session and look at my work in awe hey, I wrote that. My brain created that.

Of doing something I know I was born to do.

Flow is a term I've stumbled across before, but Deep Work does a pretty good job in linking flow to depth. One is happiest when one's "body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."

This is flow.

The "more such flow experiences occur, the higher the subject's life satisfaction."  

That is why deep work — writing, in my case — gives rise to meaning.

Since early March, I've accomplished the following:

1) I've figured out the entire plot and characterisations for my novel and slotted them into their respective chapters and scenes. I’ve sketched up a rough timeline for the story. This is something I've been putting off for a whole fucking year because I used to be pathetic like that.

When I finished it, I felt so deliriously happy that I could have conjured a Patronus.

I wrote the first scene of the first chapter on 10 April, and since then, I'm churning out one chapter a week. Chapter 1: 10,954 words. 2: 14,029 words. 3: 11,262 words. 4: currently 8,215 words (still left with one last scene), bringing my total word count to 44,460 words.

I'm so close to finishing Act 1.

This is such a major milestone for me.

The more I wrote, the more I practised the skill, the easier it was for me to continue doing it. The momentum propelled me forward, easing me on to the next chapter.

It's exactly the same as going to the gym. Once you've fallen into the habit, it's so much easier to continue rather than stop for a long time and then fall under the curse of inertia and getting over that annoying activation energy.

The transition between reality and my fictional world is more seamless; I can just simply sit at my laptop and pick up from where I left off. Last time, when I didn't write as often, I would usually take longer to shift gears to get myself into the mood of writing.

Deliberate practise.

2) I'm still continuing my regular trips to the gym. I hit 5km on the treadmill a few weeks back, a new high, and I've been consistently encouraging myself to hit at least 5km each session, and this is a record that I've maintained up till now. It's often the most tiring halfway into the run, but once you hit the home stretch (which for me, is around 3km), it's like my body eases into the language of running; my heartbeat, breathing and limbs moving in perfect sync.

It's always your mind who fucks things up by exaggerating your exhaustion, but if you were to listen closely to your body instead, it's telling you hey, I'm fine. I'm fine. Just hold on to the end of this song, to after you pass that tree in the scenery in the treadmill video, hold on until you finish this minute.

Just hold on.

Deliberate practise.

I have friends that can easily run circles around me, but I'm not interested in comparing myself with them, because that's the way disappointment and inadequacy lies.

I've given up on that a long time ago.

I compare myself to when I first started out at the gym, when my maximum distance was 3.9km. If I want to go way, way back, I used to consistently fail my 2.4km run during secondary school. I've steadily improved, and I'm only interested in comparing myself with how I used to be. 

3) I took one full week (evenings after work and full weekends) to clear and clean my room. I was the most ruthless this time round; there are big gaping spaces in my drawers and cupboards where shit used to be.

Locked my withered heart up in a corner, threw what I didn't need/use away, left little room for sentimentality and vowed to buy even lesser things this year so that I don't need to waste so much time and effort packing my room next year.

4) Increased the stocks in my portfolio. I'll have to spend some time in May sorting and updating everything again.

5) Started oil painting class with jingxiang. We're painting sunflowers as a still life, and hey, I'm not as bad as I thought I would be.

I think the key lesson that I've learnt these two months is simply to just start.

The devil emerges when you doubt yourself, when the stray voice in your head pops up and says hey, just open YouTube and laze on the bed for a bit. You're tired, you've had a bad day at work.

No. Push that voice down and just start, be it opening Microsoft Word, grabbing the post-it detailing my dailies or having the fortitude to not disembark bus 96 when it reaches my house, instead staying on the bus until it drops me off at my gym.

We have to start somewhere — be it the first sentence of a novel, the first kilometre of a run, the first push-up of a set of exercises, the first brush on the canvas.

Just start now.

Because if not now, when?

If it's not your voice telling your story, then who?

We have abandoned the piano and are now leaning over the bar table to trace childish patterns — smiley faces, squiggly words and stick figures — on the foggy glass. She licks the chocolate off her fingers and laughs when I draw a whale, complete with a large ribbon, on the glass. 

She's drained her coffee dry, while my Earl Grey sits in my teacup, steadily cooling. An open tin of chocolate biscuits sits beside me, and our table is strewn with crumbs.

A storm is out in full force, raindrops splattering against the pavement, the howling wind bending the branches of trees, the roar of thunder and harsh flash of lightning showing no mercy. Outside, the world dissolves in a wash of colour and shapes, blurred by the rain lashing against the glass.

There's no one else out there, just like how it always is, and will be.

It's the end of the world, and we're the only two left. 

It doesn't matter, because I'm with her and she's with me and we're inside, warm and safe and cosy. 

We sit alone, in the sparkling city of stars — as empty as the jagged shards of loneliness, but yet as hauntingly beautiful as a sorrowful piano ballad playing in a dark, vacated room.

hearts still beat when they're broken
I saw the moon while I was flying in the sky.

It was late last year, when I was on the way home from Hong Kong in a plane. I was listening to Coldplay's all I can think about is you on the in-flight entertainment system while I was staring at the moon. It hung so perfectly, bright and glowing, glittering against the backdrop of inky darkness of the velvet sky.

I couldn't take my eyes off it, my eyes wide in wonder and awe. Although it disappeared momentarily behind thin scraps of cotton-candy clouds once in a while, I spent the entirety of the song craning my neck staring at it.

I've never been so close to the moon before.

I like bright things against dark backgrounds, because it reminds me of how happiness and hope contrasts with sorrow and misery. It's difficult to fully grasp the meaning of one without experiencing the other.

Night lights, for example. Hong Kong's Victoria Peak. New York City's Empire State Building. The view is breathtaking, the height overwhelming and the scenery majestic.

And most importantly, it reminds me of sonder. It's not a real word — in fact, it's taken from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It is defined as "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness".

For each light in each apartment, it represents at least one person. For each vehicle zipping through the snarls of traffic, it represents someone going somewhere, anywhere, to take them away from where they used to be. Looking down at all of these people going about the humdrum of their daily lives makes my life and my own issues seem insignificant.

Sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, none of this even matters after all.

Thinking about this helps me put things into perspective.

Everyone has their own problems, their own stories where they're the star of their own autobiography.

All those stories.

I've never been this close to the moon before.

After a while, I looked away from the moon and gazed with blank eyes at the dark television screen in front of me.

I stayed like that for a while.

Many, many years ago, flying — flitting between the clouds, gazing at the moon and dancing with the stars — could only be an unattainable dream. Now, because of human ingenuity and technology, flying is such a commonplace occurrence — something that we tend to take for granted.

I've learnt that humans like to take a lot of things for granted.

My aunt passed away during Chinese New Year.

She entered the hospital in late January, and passed away one month after she was admitted. She was diagnosed to be in the final stages of pancreatic cancer.

The doctor gave her less than three months to live.

She left us three weeks after she received the diagnosis.

The night before she died, she could barely speak and swallow. She had stopped eating a long time ago, and it was difficult for her to even sip on water. We watched her lie on the bed of the hospice, hooked up to a machine which provided her with oxygen. She looked at us with half-lidded eyes, nodding or shaking her head at my mum's questions while my parents took turns feeding her droplets of water with a spoon.

I wanted to hold her hand. The bones of her fingers were crooked, and her skin was dry. I didn't care about any of that, of course. I wanted to hold her hand because I've always been bad with words. I never know what to say in situations like this, I don't know how to comfort with words.

I don't like showing emotion in front of people.

Perhaps I should hold her hand the next time I visit, and not now?

But I was afraid that there wouldn't be a next time.

So I raised my arms and cupped her left hand between my hands.

And I burst into tears.

My parents haven't seen me cry in years. I bowed my head and rested my forehead on my upper arm and I sobbed while I held her hand. I felt her squeeze back faintly and I cried even harder. Someone pressed a tissue onto my hand, but I ignored it. I cried and cried, hoping that she would miraculously know my feelings — grief, helplessness, regret, resignation — just through my touch and tears.

I could feel the thud of her heartbeat through her hands, and I held on tight.

After a while I let go, just in case it was uncomfortable for her to have her hand in the same position. Eventually, she held onto my forearm, and I placed my other hand on top of hers. When the pain of her disease struck her every few minutes, she would frown, wince and clutch me tighter. At some point in time, she called for my grandmother — her mother. I bit my lower lip trying to keep my tears at bay and squeezed her hand.

We were with her for two hours on the last night of her life. When she was tired and wanted to rest, she slid her hand away from my arm.

We left with heavy hearts.

The next morning, we got a call from my dad saying that she had passed away. It was on a Sunday. There was no wake, and the cremation was scheduled for Monday afternoon.

That week was camp week — students were going to stay overnight at the museum so our schedules at work were more erratic than the usual 9am-6pm. Activities for the camp started early afternoon and lasted until morning the next day, plus we had to stay overnight with the students.

The time of the cremation clashed with my first guided tour, so I was very thankful to my colleague for covering my duty. After the cremation, I went home and cried somemore. Then I went to shower, wash my face, looked long and hard in the mirror to steel myself, and then went to work. The bone-picking ceremony was on Tuesday morning, and I was also granted time off for that.

I am very, very grateful for my colleagues.

We placed my aunt's ashes between my grandmother and grandfather's ashes. Her wish was to be near my grandmother, and I'm glad that we were able to fulfil that.

I don't think my aunt was supposed to leave us so early — the doctor gave her three months.

I like to think that my grandmother saw how she was suffering, and wanted to protect her.

My aunt passed away on 25 Feb 2018.

My grandmother passed away on 27 Feb 2004.

My aunt kept saying she wanted to be close to my grandmother.

Sometimes, I think that things are destined.

My fondest childhood memories belonged in a sixth-storey flat in Telok Blangah. The household was comprised of my grandparents, my aunt and my uncle. My parents had to work, so they usually left me with my grandparents, especially on weekdays. My parents and I lived in Serangoon, but I always was excited to stay at Telok Blangah because it was near my primary and secondary schools, and there were people over there to keep me company.

My uncle had a computer, and he bought me Archie comics, which I read out in different voices — high-pitched for Betty and Veronice, and normal- and low-pitched for Archie, Jughead and Reggie. I drew on his walls, and he let me. He would buy me chips or food from McDonalds, which cheered me up greatly. I played games, listened to music, used MSN, practised typing skills on his computer. He introduced me to Diablo II. I played this game with my cousins too, back when my grandma was still around and we met each other for Chinese New Year.

This uncle means a lot to me. More than I can ever put into words.

I will always remember my aunt in her long sleeveless dress, and whenever the dress was too long at the end, she'll pin it up with wooden pegs so it reached to her knees. I remember her smile and her laughter, her hair tied up in a messy bun. After dinner, she'll be sitting cross-legged in the white plastic chair in front of the television or writing up labels for her supermarket job. She would ask me to translate the English words for her, and I'd teach her how to write some words and their meaning. I remember her combs and brushes (kept in a Little Mermaid cup) and her facial powder on top of the white cupboard.

She wipes her mouth after meals like my grandmother.

That's mostly all that I can remember of her. After we moved out from Telok Blangah, we drifted apart, and the distance only increased after the deaths of my grandparents. I barely saw her after that, although my mum does visit her during Chinese New Year to give her pyjamas, and I call her to wish her happy Chinese New Year.

The last purchase that my mum bought for her was also pyjamas — three sets for her to wear during her last days in the hospice. But she passed away before she could wear any.

Her death saddens me greatly, but there was one thing that was especially poignant: when she was first admitted to hospital, she told us that she wanted to resign after she got out of the hospital. She had enough of working long hours and doing back-breaking work at the supermarket. This was before she was diagnosed.

She's worked so hard her entire life, and I think her plan was to retire and enjoy life.

But she couldn't.

She couldn't, and I feel so sorry for her.

I've learnt that life is short.

A month can change everything.

I can only hope that she's finally with my grandma now, and at peace.

Oh, and that sixth-storey flat in Telok Blangah?

Only ghosts live there now.

That was the main reason why February passed by in a blur of misery, self-pity and disappointment. The disappointment came about because of two friends. I don't want to go into detail about this because they're hardly worth my time typing it all out, but like what I hinted to in my recent posts — I expected better.

I thought wrong.

Guess it's really true: everyone changes, everyone leaves and everyone dies.

I didn't accomplish much in February; giving myself excuses, throwing myself pity parties where I'm the only one invited.

I'm tired of wallowing in my pit of depression.

I could've done better in January and February, but I didn't. Nevertheless, that's no reason to overlook my accomplishments for the past two months.

I finally set up my bullet journal for 2018, and things are going along pretty nicely. I'm used to tracking (I've been doing this since 2017, although I was hardly as consistent last year) and planning my time. I've set up my habit trackers (e.g., read the papers, meditate, my skincare regime and hug my rabbits). Setting them up is one thing, actually doing them is another, but I'm slowly getting there. I'm still learning to be productive enough — I'm wonderful at planning it all out and knowing what I'm supposed to do, but actually getting down to it... well, I'm still working on that.

Notable events include: Foster the People live in Singapore! Jacky Cheung live in Singapore! My first time rock-climbing! I've had bad times earlier this year, but I've had these good times too to balance it out. 

Fitness-wise, I've made damn good progress in January — hauling myself to the gym at least three times a week, along with my dailies (named them after a questing system in World of Warcraft). Basically, I do different sets of exercises like glute bridges, planking, push-ups, lunges, etc to work out at home on the days that I don't go to the gym. I stopped working out in February because some days I went to the hospital to visit my aunt, I was sick half the month, and also was busy feeling sorry for myself.

But I've got back on track now.

I've also worked on my finances: updated my insurance expenditure, budget and investment portfolio. I've also bought some new shares. Still got a bit more work to do on that, and that's one of my goals to work on in early March.

My major goal, my laser-light focus in 2018 is my novel, though. It's a novel-length fanfiction set in the Harry Potter world. It's an action and adventure fic, which is pretty cool 'cos it's my first time dabbling in this genre. It's been bubbling in the back-burner for 7-8 years, and I'm finally ready to breathe life into it, setting it from thought to pen and paper. Plotting the nitty-gritty is one of the main aims of March, but writing and publishing it online should take the entire year.

Pretty excited for that, heh.

After plotting it out, I'm going to be busy packing my room because it's not as neat and minimalistic as I'd like it to be. Clutter drags down the mind and hampers productivity.

Well, these are my goals for March, along with a crazy packed work-schedule and a tower of books waiting to be read.

Wish me luck.

Chloe doesn't appear in form as often now.

I don't know if that's a good or a bad sign.

Sometimes I feel her lurking at the edges of my sanity, laughing throatily while she leans back on her chair and blows a stream of purple smoke from her cigarette. At times, she's snarling at me, telling me I'm worth more than this, that I'm better than this, to stop feeling sorry for myself, while she saves me when I'm drowning in my pool of misery. She's the one wiping the tears off my face and telling me calmly to get on with things, that life moves on even when death lingers on my mind every single day.

She's the domineering voice ordering me to run another half a kilometre on the treadmill, hold on for another half a minute in that planking position and push on to finish that last push-up before she congratules me on a job well done and one to be proud of. She's the motivation that I need to hear to power on through my day, convincing me that hey, I can do this.

She's always there when I need her, the salve to my jaded, bitter soul.

She teaches me to embrace solitude, because this will be the state of my future.

She's the one whispering in my ear people might be leaving, and you may feel alone, but don't be afraid. I am here. I will not disappear. I am here.

I will always be here with you.

I don't have siblings, and I doubt I'll be married in this lifetime. I don't expect my friends to be around during my last days.

But at least I will have her.

She will be with me when I die alone at some point in the future.

Strangely enough, that thought comforts me.

harder to smile
it amazes me how I can still feel disappointed by friends because my expectations are already down to the depths of hell.

guess you still learn something everyday.

time to push those expectations even lower, so low that they might not exist at all.

i know it's hard but you gotta get out of bed
cried when I walked home from gym tonight. It's alright, no one noticed because I had my head down, headphones on and long hair swaying in the cool night breeze.

another useful side-effect of having long hair.

stopped briefly when I reached home cos I didn't want anyone to see, then curled up on my bed in my room in the darkness and continued until I went to shower, where the water mingled with my tears before I wiped it all away.

I used to think that I couldn't feel much anymore.

guess there's still something in me that's worth salvaging, worth saving, worth redeeming.

how I feel now is so drastically different from how I felt 24 hours ago. 24 hours ago, foster the people - one of my favourite bands of all time - played a show here, and I was so happy, so euphoric, so excited for those 2 hours.

It was glorious, and it was the closest to pure, undiluted happiness that I've felt in... years?

Now, I replay the concert videos that I've filmed, scroll through the photos I've taken, listen to their music non-stop, just to ignite that bubbly, floaty, heavenly feeling of happiness that makes me feel like I've been sipping on sunshine. 

music has saved, and will always save me.

I've got ruby on repeat, and a tiny part of me wishes that the lyrics, especially those at the end, is something that someone can say to me personally.

but I know that's not going to happen because the walls that I've spent the past few years building are too thick, too high, too impenetrable.

I ran so much tonight.

It's okay, because I'll fall asleep to this song tonight, and hopefully things will be better when I wake up tomorrow.

it's a bad phase, not a bad life.

I wonder how many times I have to repeat that to myself to make myself believe that. 

taped up broken wings
I'm currently working on my end-of-2017-beginning-of-2018 blog post, among other writing projects, but recent events have forced me to start my first post of 2018 like this.

I am disappointed at how easily I set up myself up for disappointment.

Everyone changes, everyone leaves and everyone dies.

This is a fact of life I've learnt four years ago that will never change, no matter what phase of my life I am at.

What can I do to deal with this?

Run more. I've been going to the gym (3-4x a week on average) since October. Slacked during later half of November and December, but I'm back on track and grateful and proud of my current achievements with regards to my health. I run and I run and I run and the unsettling thing is that I don't know what I'm running away from or running towards.

I just know I need to move, to tire myself out, to push myself and tell myself that I am better than this; to become stronger - both mentally and physically - because if not, how am I going to take care of myself in the future?

Because I know there will be no one left to take care of me.

Read more, write more. This reality - where my body is trapped in - hurts and burns and scars and the longer I stay here, the less this realm has to offer me. When I write, time passes faster in this world, and I live and breathe in another universe where the pain that I am used to lingers only on the outskirts.

With every passing year, the numbness spreads and radiates and tingles further and further under my skin, burrowing between my sins and nestling amongst my disappointments.

I used to think that I didn't need any fixing because ultimately, I wasn't broken.

I don't think that applies anymore.

I think it's time to slaughter the remains of the optimist in me. 

But yet, something feeble - as feeble as the fluttering wing of a dying bird - croaks deep within me, a voice that I try to silence:

it's a bad day, not a bad life.

no words left
New York City: 19 September to 25 September
Orlando, Florida: 25 September to 29 September
NYC: 29 September to 5 October

Photos on Facebook

Krispy Kreme hot glazed doughnuts - seriously addictive
Perkins restaurant - cheap prices, tomato basil soup and all-day breakfasts
Super Target - one of the biggest supermarkets I've been to
Orlando outlet malls
Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure - ALL THE HARRY POTTER

Museum of Modern Art
American Museum of Natural History - dinosaurs, whale
Metropolitan Museum of Art - least favourite museum
9/11 Memorial - a must-visit
Museum of City of New York - most favourite museum

Grand Central Terminal - underwhelming
Union Square Park + Greenmarket selling local, fresh produce
Top of the Rock - good, but I prefer Empire State Building
Circle Line Cruises - 90 minutes cruise of lower Manhattan, inclusive of Statue of Liberty
Chinatown - Nice Green Bo restaurant, Chinatown Ice-Cream Factory
Times Square + two musicals (Kinky Boots and School of Rock)
Empire State Building - all of that sweet bling framed by the hudson/east river. It's almost surreal - breathtaking views and dazzling lights, gazing down at buildings rich with history, the snarls of traffic present even at 11pm. I'm staring down at literally thousands of people going about their lives, and it's strange how that makes me feel alive yet small and insignificant at the same time. & this is when it hits me, with an immensity that takes me by surprise, that I'm finally at the city that never sleeps , where futures are made, everyone is reinvented and nothing ever stays the same. and it feels downright exhilarating. if you only have time for one attraction at night, it's this. this is the best welcome from new york that you're ever gonna get.
The High Line - I really liked this too
Brooklyn Bridge + Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory + Barclays Centre - Bruno Mars 24K Magic World Tour. Brooklyn Bridge boasts a sunset view of Manhattan across the east river. nearby: amazing pizza, a shake shack and the brooklyn ice-cream factory, where I fondly remember as the place where the ice cream guy flirted with me and gave me a free chocolate scoop /happy smile/
Central Park + Zoo - one of my favourite places
Wall Street & Charging Bull - so crowded with China tourists
Washington Square Park
Rockefeller Centre

Nordstrom Rack
The Strand Bookstore, Forbidden Planet (comic book store and memorabilia)
Century 21 - seriously discounted things
Herald Square
Evolution store

Notable food places
Benjamin's Steakhouse, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Really good steak and sea bass, served by cheeky waiters.
William Greenberg desserts - black and white cookies
Grimaldi's Pizza
The Smith
Chelsea Market - chirashi bowl and lobster roll
Barney Greengrass - lox, bagel, smoked sturgeon, scrambled eggs.
Lexington Candy Shop - really old-school diner with old-school decor and food. Vanilla milkshake was awesome
Saigon Shack - beef pho was a godsend to satisfy my Asian soup cravings
The Modern at Museum of Modern Art, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Lobster risotto and sea bass, along with summer tart

Expenditure: SGD4,355 (including Bruno Mars concert, universal park tickets, flights etc ) and exclusive of accommodation, meals

Sitting on the subway, on the way to Chinatown, and then realising that I'm not in Manhattan anymore when I see the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Managed to find my way back, and I'm proud to say that during the trip there, I've learnt how to navigate the subway system in a short time.

Visiting the museums and seeing tour guides (for the Guggenheim - their tours are an hour long and focus on one exhibit for the entire hour!) doing their job. Made me miss my job, and more importantly, my colleagues.

Sat beside an aspiring songwriter on the subway. Saw him tapping lyrics on his phone and engaged in a short, yet unforgettable conversation with him

Everytime someone smiled at me and asked me how are you doing today? and sometimes engaged me in polite conversation. The people there are friendly (not all, of course, but most). Passersby helped to carry my luggage down the flight of stairs (because the station had no lift)

unlike back home, people in trains aren't on their phones as much in new york. they're reading the paper or a novel, talking with their friends, or looking around. and for those that are listening to music, almost everyone is on wireless headphones/earpieces.

people don't really sit down for meals, they tend to grab a sandwich, bagel or coffee and eat on the go. I guess this is because eating out is expensive, plus you gotta tip when you sit down at a cafe or restaurant.

Writing inspirations:
9/11 Memorial
Alberto Giacometti's painting of his wife titled "Annette Giacometti, the Artist's Wife".
Mummy exhibition at the AMNH - the goddess called Nut (pronounced Newt) guided the dead to their afterlife. The Egyptians would carve her image on the bottom of coffins, and they would literally lie in her arms as they embarked on the journey to the afterlife.